Friday, June 21, 2013
I saw a funny cartoon on Facebook recently, where a cat had made a little Zen Garden out of his litter box. A woman commented that her cat had started pooping next to the litter box and they were going to find it a new home. Dozens of angry retorts from cat lovers followed, and while some of the comments were a bit harsh, I think their wrath was justified. Had the woman said she’d tried everything to figure out why the cat was doing this, and asked for help, it would have been a different story.
Unfortunately, there are people who, instead of trying to change this common but undesirable behavior, just dump the cat at the shelter. That doesn’t solve anything, and innocent animals suffer needlessly. It’s absolutely not the cat’s fault that it starts going outside the litter box. There is always a reason, and a responsible pet owner has a duty to figure it out and find a solution. Anything else is just unacceptable. Sometimes it’s not easy, but no one ever said life would be without challenges.
There are five main reasons a cat might start “doing his business” outside the litter box. Let’s take a look at them.
A Medical Problem
Many medical issues – including diabetes, cystitis, bladder stones and urethral blockage – can cause a cat to stop using the litter box, and some can be life threatening. Therefore, it’s imperative to take your cat to the vet to rule out a medical problem first, before considering other reasons for the litter box aversion.
Type of Litter
Back in 1947, when Edward Lowe “accidentally” invented the first commercially packaged kitty litter, pet owners weren’t faced with a gazillion choices like they are today. How do we choose one? It depends somewhat on your personal preferences, but in the end it’s really about which one your cat likes and will use. If you love the natural kitty litters made from corn or wheat but your cat doesn’t, guess who has the final say? If you think scented litter smells nice, but your cat (whose sense of smell is infinitely greater than your own) prefers unscented, then unscented is what you’ll have to use. Some litter has a rough texture, and your cat might prefer a finer, sandy feel.
If your cat doesn’t like your choice of litter for any reason, she’s going to let you know with inappropriate elimination – and you will never convince them to accept a litter they find objectionable. You may have to try many different brands and types to discover which one is the holy grail of kitty litters in your cat’s eyes, but once you do, stick with it.
The classic real estate adage “location, location, location” is also important for the litter box. Situate the box in a safe, low-traffic location that’s easily accessible, offers some privacy and is not near appliances that make startling noises. Litter boxes should also not be placed next to food and water bowls, because cats don’t like to eat or drink near where they go to the bathroom any more than humans do. If you have multiple cats and more than one litter box, don’t put them all in the same place if you have a bully cat who might try to keep a timid cat away from the box.
The Box Itself
Size matters for many things … litter boxes among them. Don’t expect an adult cat to keep using the itty bitty box you got when he was a kitten, and don’t expect a large cat to feel comfortable using a medium sized box. Actually, I’m not sure there is such a thing as “too big” when it comes to the litter box, at least in terms of the cat’s acceptance.
The number of litter boxes is also important for many cats. The Litter Box Golden Rule is one for each cat, plus one extra. That being said, I have three cats and only one litter box (gasp!) and my cats don’t seem to mind. It probably helps that I have OCD and scoop that one box several times a day, but even so, it seems the golden rule might not apply to every household.
There are other reasons why a cat might start going outside their litter box. One might say this post has only “scratched the surface” (sorry!) so if more research is needed, the website catinfo.org is a good place to start.
Top photo by Tracie Hall
Bottom photo by Graham Smith
Read more articles by Julia Williams